OTSD: What causes the Online Teaching Stress Disorder
It seems like yesterday the World was going into chaos, and yet we survived, and something so new to most of us, now is considered almost second nature, or at least part of the package of being a Teacher. But there is a new challenge that is slithering in our lives. It is called OTSD (Online Teaching Stress Disorder) and we are going to hear about it in the future…
We are now familiar with teaching online, having hybrid lessons and attending multiple online meetings every day, with our colleagues and the parents of our students.
That being said, teaching was already a job full of struggles, and the added online dimension has added stress to our workload. In fact, we are starting to get familiar with the acronym OTSD: Online Teaching Stress Disorder.
As we all know by now, the honeymoon of working from home in our kitchen wearing slippers has finished. Now Zoom meetings and Whatsapp communications are the norm and they never stop. Many of us don’t follow anymore the working hours we were so bored about. I hate Mondays? To be honest, I am starting to hate weekends as well.
What happened to our profession since 2019? How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our professional lives? What kind of problems and challenges have EFL teachers encountered switching to online, and now working in a hybrid environment? How do we alleviate the stress caused by the new changes?
The new challenges for EFL teachers that cause OTSD
Technology has kicked in and is the most evident change of the past few years. It brought a revolution in our profession and things won’t go back. Not so long ago, teachers could pride themselves of not knowing how to switch on a computer. Now, it would be impossible to survive as a teacher without a good understanding of technology. It doesn’t matter if we refuse it: if our school and colleagues rely on it, we have no choice but to play the game.
Together with the challenges of a new technology to learn (NEW at least for us), there are objective difficulties that are causing us stress, like our internet speed, camera and microphone not working, the software not working properly, the computer not working, or the battery dying.
And the worst of it is that this is the part of the job we can control. What when these issues happen on the other side of the screen?
No, wait, this is not the worst. The worst is that all of the above issues (and more) have to be multiplied by the number of participants, and sometimes we have to deal with 25 teenagers connecting from their homes, who with an eye pretend to pay attention to us and with another are playing videogames.
Another aspect to consider about technology is the online registrar. Now many schools use platforms to communicate directly with staff members, students and parents. Although this is something very useful, it represents also a waste of time for many teachers, and especially when your time is very limited, this affects our mood and our results in the long run.
This is not a new way of teaching: many teachers used to teach online before the Corona Virus, but now it has become the norm.
This means that there are important differences to consider: aside from an increase in technology, one of the most significant changes is that before, online teaching was mainly one on one (between a teacher wanting to teach online and a learner wanting to learn online). Now, especially when we talk about public schools, the relationship is between a teacher not wanting to teach online and 25 students altogether, who would rather do anything else. This new kind of teaching requires higher self-control for teachers and the ability to involve students with content that has to be always new and entertaining, usually specially made for online teaching (the traditional worksheets are all of a sudden considered too boring to be of any use).
Online learning has scaled down the span of attention of our students (and to be fair, it was really low even before the online revolution).
If you had experience teaching before the Corona Virus, you noticed the sudden shift in the ability of our students to follow a class, whether online or offline. We can all agree that this is a direct consequence of staying home for two years and a direct consequence of the online vortex.
Their inability to follow us as before is forcing us to plan more accurately our classes. Preparing a worksheet and having our students complete it during a class is not enough anymore. Very often we have to prepare in advance a video and a related game, in order to switch from one activity to another in a matter of minutes.
This is something we experienced during our forced time online, but it remains now that we are back to our physical school and we have to constantly fight with students that are not able anymore to sit on a chair.
When teaching online we put more energy and time into the production of our lecture, because our speaking time is longer than offline courses.”Online teaching involves a variety of array of tools, resources, teaching approaches, organizational arrangements and forms of interaction, monitoring and support. Since online teaching has blurred boundaries between materials (digital and human experience), to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by the online learning environment, now well-designed teaching content plays a vital role in our classes.
Lack of empathy
We might say that online teaching is like face to face teaching, but it’s not. It’s more difficult to empathize with our students, and it’s more difficult for them to connect with us.
There are many advantages, one of them being that it’s easier for them to follow us and pay attention to our pronunciation, and the same goes for us with theirs.
With physical teaching, however, we can use the space to connect with our students. We can move around the classroom, we can read their body language, and we can be sure they are following us (something we can’t do when they switch off the camera and claim there are connection problems). Offline, we can better understand their difficulties. As their motivation is the key for them to progress in their studies, that means that in the real world we can have better results by inspiring them, while it is very difficult to achieve the same result online.
Education is not just about indifferently imparting knowledge, it is a process to guide students to know themselves. The face-to-face class provides a convenient environment for students to easily turn to teachers when they are in trouble – whether about learning or life-related, oral communication is more efficient and direct than sending emails/messages through the Internet.
Because of this lack of empathy, very often we notice that students, in general, are meaner with us as well and difficult to control.
Among the not so obvious additional difficulties, many members of the Gallery Teachers Community mentioned they were used to pulling out a final show that involved all the students and motivated the students to study for their performance. In an online environment, this has been too difficult and most of the time it has been cancelled, or they did a very small version of it, from home. This situation affected their personal relationships and avoided forming the usual bonds between students that were so important during the year. We can see some of the consequences now that they are back to school and they don’t talk anymore between each other and spend most of their breaks sitting on their chair, checking their phones.
Now we can start seeing the psychological consequences of the Corona Virus. Being alone, in our homes, and spending most of our days at the computer, is causing mass depression among teachers and it affected us also physically. We lacked the excitement and the Good stress of our profession, and now some of us are still resenting that period of time when we have been locked down. It is like many teachers have lost their enthusiasm, and strangely, when schools were about to reopen, many teachers just didn’t want to go back.
In some ways, and with many differences, this is similar to what many students have experienced themselves, and the awareness of this phenomenon has just started. We believe we will learn more in the upcoming years, once the consequences will be clear.
Last, but not least, we should talk about salaries. Even before the Corona Virus, our profession wasn’t famous for being well paid. It is true that, in many cases, by working online we have been able to work for many companies at the same time, but it is worth mentioning that teaching hours represent just a small part of our activities, and are the only ones we are getting paid for.
There are lesson planning, preparation, homework correction and grading.
Furthermore, the number of meetings and training has increased exponentially, now that we can attend them from home. And what about Whatsapp? Our telephone number can’t be private anymore. Many schools require us to give it to our students. Each class has its official group, the subject group and the teachers’ group. We are also in the department group with all of the English Teachers and the institute group. Then our colleagues use WhatsApp to communicate with us at any hour of the day and at weekends.
If you work for a large school, or you freelance between schools, your phone hardly stops ringing.
But guess what? Even if we work a lot more now, and there has been an increase in the paperwork that contributes to eating our time and energy, our salary is the same as before the pandemic, or even less than that…
The Corona Virus has undoubtedly brought a big change in our professional lives. In some ways, even for the best. Yet we are still in a relatively new era and we are now in the phase where we are starting to get aware of the problems we are going to face in the near future and for the years to come.
OTSD (Online Teaching Stress Disorder) is just at its beginning, and we don’t know yet how it will affect us. For the moment, we should know it exists and keep an eye on it, to see how it evolves. Do your best to keep positive. Enjoy your job, your colleagues, your students, and your families. Go out for a walk and do your best to keep positive!